Who’s Afraid Of The Truth?

Allow me to recommend Jim Fallows’ latest post on freedom of speech and Max Blumenthal’s grueling book about the extremist elements in contemporary Israel, Goliath. The core point is that, whatever you believe about the arguments of the book, or of its author, it remains a powerfully reported account of actual people currently living in Israel, their attitudes and beliefs. You might imagine that Blumenthal’s selection of racist, extremist elements in Israeli culture obscures a larger truth, as we noted recently. But, even then, it is still a lesser truth that should be engaged, not ignored. He marshalls facts. He talks to people directly. The idea that a book that delves into such empirical questions must somehow be repudiated or ignored is a deeply illiberal idea.

Jim argues:

[Blumenthal] has found a group of people he identifies as extremists in Israel—extreme in their belief that Arabs have no place in their society, extreme in their hostility especially to recent non-Jewish African refugees, extreme in their seeming rejection of the liberal-democratic vision of Israel’s future. He says: These people are coming, and they’re taking Israeli politics with them. As he put it in a recent interview with Salon, the book is “an unvarnished view of Israel at its most extreme.” Again, the power of his book is not that Blumenthal disagrees with these groups. Obviously he does. It comes from what he shows.

To see for yourself, just watch a few minutes of the video Blumenthal and his associates made a few months ago, about recent anti-African-immigration movements. The narration obviously disapproves of the anti-immigrant activists, but that doesn’t matter. The power of the video comes from letting these people talk, starting a minute or so in.

I don’t know how you can watch the video above without thinking of previous attempts in human history – a “cancer on our body!” – to demonize, persecute and expel marginal minorities in defense of a racially homogeneous country. Period. In a particularly glaring twist, the New York Times commissioned the video then simply refused to air it.

Now I know I can be tedious about this kind of thing, and one shouldn’t engage a book merely because some want it branded anathema. But nonfiction is at its most urgent when forcing us to confront uncomfortable reality.

You can and should criticize that reality for being untrue, or deceptive, or simply false. But not engaging it at all on empirical grounds is a sign of fear, not wisdom. That was my argument for airing “The Bell Curve” a couple of decades ago; it’s my argument for presenting Steve Jimenez’s reporting on the tragedy of Matthew Shepard on the Dish. It’s why my instinctive response to those who want a book ruled out of the discourse, is to read it as a human being or air it as an editor.

It’s staggering to me that the New York Times, for example, has not reviewed (even critically) either Goliath or The Book of Matt. Why not? Either because they are cowards or because they genuinely believe that examining arguments that undermine core factions or lobbies – gay or Jewish – is somehow offensive in itself. Neither of these is a good argument. Both sustain denial.